By Ruth Burns: FNM correspondent
The banking business in the early days on the High Plains was as wild and unpredictable as the other occupations of the time.
People did not have much money, but after the sale of a herd of cattle, there would be large sums of gold and paper money to contend with. Also, many of the homesteaders had sold everything they owned before traveling to their new claims and needed a place to safely store the proceeds until it could be used for building materials and livestock.
Probably the earliest banker was James Polk “Jim” Stone, one of the early day cowboys who came to the High Plains of Eastern New Mexico before the railroad.
He was born in 1868 in Limestone County, Texas, and migrated with his family to Brown County. In 1888, he and his two brothers, Andrew and Will came to New Mexico and established a ranch south of Doak Good at Portales Springs. His brand was “S inside a diamond.”
Stone was of a quiet nature and didn’t take part in some of the more adventurous activities of the cowboys.
At one time, he had an adobe house above the Sid Boykin’s place on Running Water Draw, and Lizzie Boykin has said of him: “The cowboys used to say that when Jim Stone went to town, he would not get drunk, as the others did, but would buy him a sack of candy and go back to the wagon to eat it. Maybe those quiet habits helped him to become a rich man before he died.”
Jim worked for the DZ Ranch at Salt Lake at one time and was well-liked by the other cowboys. He was a champion steer roper and continued to compete in ropings up until he was 38 years old.
At that time, there were no roping pens, only chutes, so once turned loose, the steers ran until they wee taken down. At one roping, Jim broke three ropes trying to rope a difficult steer. When the third rope broke, he threw it down and declared he was through roping steers.
Jim and Lula Beasley were married in 1898 and she was later one of the first women elected to the school board. When Jim became involved in the banking business, she served as a director. She and Mr. Stone helped organize the First Methodist Church in Portales.
In 1890, with the homesteaders pouring in on the new railway, Jim went into the banking business, establishing the Bank of Portales in the new little town that had sprung up near the depot.
It was the first brick building in the town and was located on South Main. It still stands today, next to the Portales News Tribune.
It was later named the Citizen’s Bank of Portales.
Jim opened the First National Bank of Elida in 1906, which was moved to Portales by his son Doug, and still operates as the Portales National Bank on Second Street under the direction of Jim’s grandson, David L. Stone.
Stone, Justin Click, T.E. Mears and Graham Bryant were also involved in establishing banks at Texico, Ft. Sumner, and Hereford.
The bank at Elida holds the distinction of being the only bank in the area ever held up by armed bandits.
In 1928 three outlaws invaded the bank, secured the employees in the vault and made off with the cash.
They then fled in an easterly direction, hotly pursued by the sheriff. They ran out of gas near Arch, but made it by hitchhiking to Amarillo where they were arrested.
In one incident, the notorious gunman, Jim Miller, was outsmarted by the quick thinking and ingenuity on the part of Stone.
Miller was widely known as being an outlaw who killed for hire and was suspected of being the murderer of Pat Garrett. He was eventually lynched in Oklahoma for killing a federal Marshal.
Miller made a deal with the Eiland Brothers, who ran a flock of sheep south of Portales Springs, to trade a piece of land in south Texas for the sheep. He hired a local young man to herd the sheep to the railhead for shipment to Kansas City.
There he recovered the $3,500. However, the poor Eiland brothers were left with the worthless land in Texas.
Jim Stone died in 1913 and is buried with his wife in the Portales Cemetery.
One of the few family-owned businesses that has survived from 1900 to the present, the James Polk Stone Banks now include the Portales National Bank, Clovis National Bank, Roswell National Bank, Hagerman National Bank, Hobbs National Bank, and a website for Internet banking.
Ruth Burns is a correspondent for Freedom New Mexico. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org